What is defamation

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Defamation can simply be defined as injuries to reputation resulting from words written or spoken by others. Which words are capable of lowering the reputation and dignity of the person whom it was written or spoken of in the mind of right thinking members of the society.

From the above definition, it can be gleaned that defamation arises in two forms, either in written or in spoken words. The spoken words are what constitutes slander while the written words are what constitutes libel. It is these two forms that constitute the categories or classification of defamation.

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Here, we are not concerned about the spoken words that are slander, but we are concerned about the written words which are libel.

What then is libel: libel, as we have seen above, are words written about a person which lowers the person of whom they are written, before the minds of the right thinking members of the society. Example of such words is to write that the plaintiff is a thief, a womanizer, and a corrupt political animal.

So the necessary question to ask when such words are written and disclosed to another, is does the written word tend to lower the plaintiff before the mind of right thinking members of the society?

if the answer goes in affirmative then the word is said to be libellous and therefore the plaintiff of whom it is written is defamed and his reputation disparaged before the members of the society. This no doubt would entitle the plaintiff to maintain an action in libel for defamation to his reputation.

In considering whether words such as

  1. Refer to drawer
  2. Drawer’s confirmation required and
  3. Drawer’s attention required as usually endorsed on the cheque by the banker is defamatory, it would be pertinent to look at the relationship between the banker and the customer and their duties respectively.

The relationship between the banker and the customer is that of debtor/creditor relationship whereby the debtor is under obligation to pay his creditor on demand for the money.

Under this duty, the banker must pay cheques drawn on him by his customer in a legal form on a presentation during banking hours or within a reasonable margin after banks advertised closing time at the branch of the bank where the account is kept.

Provided that (1) the customer has enough fund in his account to meet the cheque and (2) there are no legal bars to payment such as errors or omission while drawing the cheque.

A customer whose cheque was properly drawn and the account in the fund when the cheque was wrongfully dishonour may maintain the action against the banker for libel.

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If a bank writes such words as “Refer to drawer” upon a cheque drawn by a customer and the customer, in fact, has sufficient funds in his account, the question arises whether the words are libellous.

According to Lord Atkin in Sim v Stretch (1936) 2, All ER 1237 at p. 1240 the test for determining whether or not words are libellous, namely would the words tend to lower the plaintiff in the estimation of right-thinking members of the society generally?.

Therefore, when there are no irregularities such as irregular  signature or omissions such as the absence of date,    signature, amount payable etc, on the part of the drawer wrongfully dishonours the cheque by endorsing on the cheque words like “Return to drawer”

“Drawer” attention required” etc whereas there is sufficient fund in the customers account, the customer may maintain an action in libel, contending that the words written on the cheque are libellous of him, put in another word; that the words are defamatory of him.

Thanks for your Audience.

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